For decades, South Korea has been famous for innovative beauty exports like cushion-compact foundation, BB cream, and sheet masks. Known for their “skin first” approach, K-beauty brands like Belif, Peach & Lily, and Glow Recipe have become staples for skincare obsessives who want quality ingredients and packaging at an affordable price point.
From cleansing micellar water to hydrating essence, here are the best K-beauty products to try now.
Everyday Essence Face Serum
Packed with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and minerals, this gel-like essence quickly absorbs into skin to deliver deep hydration.
Packed with eye-opening ingredients like caffeine and hyaluronic acid, these top-rated picks help you fake a full night’s rest.
Peter Thomas Roth Vital-E Microbiome Moisture Defense Eye Cream
The integrity of the skin barrier is so important to the look and feel of your skin, especially in the very delicate undereye area. The 2020 Best of Beauty-winning Peter Thomas Ross Vital-E Microbiome Moisture Defense Eye Cream relies on prebiotic and probiotic ingredients, as well as powerful antioxidants to protect skin and ultimately reduce the look of lines and puffiness.
The hint of yellow tint in 2020 Readers’ Choice and Best of Beauty Award winner Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Crème — which doesn’t actually contain banana, by the way — instantly brightens and color-corrects dark circles. Vitamin C and collagen support skin’s clarity and elasticity.
L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Hydra-Nutrition Manuka Honey Eye Gel
Equipped with a cooling rollerball applicator, L’Oréal Paris’ Age Perfect Hydra-Nutrition Manuka Honey Eye Gel won a 2020 Best of Beauty Award for its depuffing and dark-circles-reducing abilities. The soothing combination of manuka honey, caffeine, and hyaluronic acid is especially perfect for dry, mature skin. Gently pat in any excess product with your fingers.
Retinol near your eyes sounds scary, but with this gentle cream you’ve got nothing to fear. RoC Retinol Correxion Eye Cream, an ophthalmologist-tested 2020 Best of Beauty Award winner, slowly releases the vitamin A derivative to fight fine lines around your eyes. And because it also contains hyaluronic acid, it does all this with lots of hydration.
The 2020 Best of Beauty Award winner (which was tested by ophthalmologists) slowly releases the vitamin A derivative to fight fine lines around your eyes. And because it also contains hyaluronic acid, it does all this with lots of hydration.
Dr. Loretta’s peptide-packed Tightening Eye Gel nabbed a 2019 Allure Best of Beauty Award for best de-puffing eye cream for the ability to improve the area’s contour. But there’s a bonus: The proprietary Chromabright complex fades uneven pigment, making this a great pick for dark circles too.
Wake up tired eyes with Kiehl’s Youth Dose Eye Treatment, made with pro-retinol (a proprietary retinol derivative), vitamin C, and grapeseed extract. The trio works in tandem over time to brighten and minimize the appearance of lines and dark circles.
Tatcha The Pearl Tinted Eye Illuminating Treatment
Like a tinted moisturizer for your undereyes, Tatcha’s almost-too-pretty-to-use The Pearl Tinted Eye Illuminating Treatment is available in three versatile shades to instantly mask discoloration and improve the appearance of skin.
This little white jar with its signature green text by Kiehl’s is a mainstay on top shelves around the world. Avocado oil in Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado is one of the most potent natural moisturizers and works to nourish and hydrate the eyes.
Drugstore fave Neutrogena Hydro Boost Eye Gel-Cream is packed with potent hyaluronic acid, which as you may know, helps lock hydration into the skin. It’s one of those good-for-everyone picks: light enough for oily skin, hydrating for anyone, and the gel texture makes it cool to the touch.
Hydrate the delicate undereye area with a formula that’s infused with hyaluronic acid, peptides, and avocado protein extract. Plus, brightening ingredients like date seed extract mean less concealer over time.
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex
Not getting enough of those all-important z’s? Keep ’em guessing with Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex, a luxurious gel-cream that combats the side effects of sleep deprivation, UV damage, and pollution buildup.
La Roche-Posay Pigmentclar Eyes was born of studies about dark undereye circles. As it turns out, the blue ones are due to a lack of microcirculation, which can result from fatigue and are worse in the morning because we sleep horizontally; brown circles can result from sun exposure, genetics, and even excessive rubbing of the eyes. If you didn’t even know undereye circles came in two types, there’s good news: This innovative LRP product was created to target both.
Pitera is the ingredient that has made SK-II the global phenomenon it is today. And while I’d assume it’s pretty highly concentrated in its fan-favorite essence, the SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Eye Cream has eight times more of the ingredient than any product before it. The result? A rich, deeply hydrating treatment that nourishes the area and provides vitamins and nutrients to brighten, firm, and prevent damage from pollution.
It’s difficult to articulate exactly what makes a universally beloved beauty product, but whatever it is, skincare brand CeraVe has it. Having launched in 2006 in the US, few faces that have tried a CeraVe product have not liked it. Now, it’s the fastest growing brand in health and beauty, with a total estimated retail value of over £31 million.
Over Zoom, one of the founders of the brand, Tom Allison, explains that a big clue to its success is in plain view on the utilitarian packaging. “Under the CeraVe logo, it says ‘developed by dermatologists,’” he says. “In 2004, we brought together a panel of dermatologists who are considered the world experts in ingredient formulation design and asked them what they would create were they to start a skincare brand themselves. They pointed us to ingredients called ceramides.”
At the time, skincare fell into one of two camps: so gentle it wouldn’t disrupt sensitive skin, or so thick and occlusive that skin had no option but to not dry out. Ceramides, which had been extensively researched and scientifically supported by clinical papers, offered a solution to these two extremes, and one that would work for all skin types. “If you imagine the skin is a brick wall, skin cells stack up on top of each other like bricks, and there is mortar that holds the cells together. Half of that mortar substance in skin is comprised of ceramides,” explains Allison. “Put simply, you don’t lose water through the skin cells themselves, but rather through the cracks between them – also known as barrier dysfunction.”
The CeraVe range is built on ceramides, which explains where the “Cera” in its moniker came from. The “Ve”, meanwhile, comes from MultiVesicular Emulsion (MVE), a clever delivery technology in each formula that escorts ingredients to exactly where they need to be within the skin – no mean feat given our skin is a defence machine that doesn’t let any old thing through its walls. “It delivers six times the amount of active ingredient to skin, in comparison to an identical formulation without MVE – and it’s patented and exclusive to us. [Skincare] brands that just have water as an ingredient in their dropper bottle formulations? There’s no thought into the actual delivery of the ingredients into the skin,” Allison says.
Allison and his team understand that today’s customers can see through a poor formulation. In this hyper-connected age, we are more skin-savvy, understand the specific benefits of each and every ingredient, and know what the skin needs. As a result, transparency is king. “Our product development process gives us a leg up, since the dermatologists we partner with are considered subject matter experts when it comes to ingredient and formulation designs,” says Allison. “Transparency drives trust with the consumer.”
Since a lot of skincare now comes with a lofty price tag – and sometimes for dubious formulas – CeraVe’s affordable, efficacious (and luxurious) formulas are refreshing. All products – even the jumbo sizes – cost less than £20, with the bestselling Hydrating Cleanser a steal at £15 for a large 473ml bottle. “CeraVe delivers performance while still driving accessibility,” adds Allison. “We define accessibility in two ways: easy to find at your local store or e-commerce site, as well as value for formulation design and size of format.” Big tick on both counts.
Since the brand puts an onus on creating a product that appeals to dermatologists – its “most important customer” – it’s not just the formulas that are important, but how easily their clients can get hold of them. If a dermatologist is to recommend a product to a client to use consistently, they need to know it’s affordable and easy to find – especially since most clients are paying to visit the dermatologist in the first place, and will often be forking out for prescriptions, too. Accessibility also comes from the fact that there is a formula for every skin type, race and age.
The brand can afford to sell its excellent formulations at a great price because it forgoes the big budget celebrity advertising and paid influencer posts that so many brands subscribe to. Instead, it lets the products speak for themselves, and ultimately, word of mouth is the biggest driver of sales. You only have to take a quick glance at TiKTok to see thousands of videos offering organic testimonials and before-and-after photographs featuring the brand’s products. “We are not making as much money as other skincare brands, and L’Oréal [which bought the brand in 2017] knows that, but it’s okay because we perform and that’s really all that matters,” says Allison.
So, what to try first from the brilliant budget brand beauty editors can’t get enough of? The Hydrating Cleanser is an excellent all-rounder that effectively and gently removes make-up and grime, leaving all skin types happy and hydrated. The recently-launched Hydrating Cream-to-Foam cleanser, meanwhile, is designed for those who like the sensation of a foaming formula, but with the sensibility of the hydrating cleanser – it uses amino acids, rather than surfactants, so won’t strip the skin like most foaming formulas do. Oily skin types will love the SA Smoothing Cleanser thanks to the 0.5 per cent concentration of salicylic acid, which gently exfoliates clogged pores.
The rest of the range is brilliant, too. Everyone should have a Facial Moisturising Lotion in their repertoire, whether their skin is acneic, and even the Salicylic Acid Foot Cream is a must-buy.
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser
Enhanced with a non-foaming gel texture, the silky face cleanser gently lifts away debris and impurities from the skin’s surface. The CeraVe hydrating cleanser resists feelings of dryness or tightness as it effectively freshens the complexion. Suitable for dehydrated and normal to dry skin types, this product is fragrance-free and non-comedogenic to avoid clogging the pores.
CeraVe Smoothing Cream
Designed to combat a variety of skin concerns, including unwanted bumps, scaliness and extreme dryness. Replenishing and non-irritating, the rich cream is packed with essential ingredients to benefit both face and body.
CeraVe Moisturising Cream
Cocooning yet non-greasy, the moisturising cream contains three essential Ceramides and Hyaluronic Acid that work in synergy to moisture and protect skin’s natural barrier. Locking in moisture for all-day hydration, it utilises MVE® Delivery Technology, which ensures controlled release of ingredients for 24 hour hydration. Gentle on skin, it leaves itchy, uncomfortable patches feeling soft and replenished. Developed by dermatologists.
Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser
Suitable for normal to dry skin types, the luxurious formula boasts a rich, creamy texture that transforms into a luxurious foam. 3 Essential Ceramides harmonise to reinforce the surface barrier, restoring vital moisture to thirsty areas of skin. Amino Acids work to preserve complexions from environmental aggressors, supporting a hydrated, healthy-looking finish.
CeraVe Smoothing Cleanser
A 0.5% concentration of Salicylic acid allows the cleansing formula to perform a chemical exfoliation, gently dissolving dead skin and pore-clogging impurities to reveal a smoothed surface, without disrupting skin’s microbiome.